Founded in 1999 as Global Helping to Advance Women (Global HAWC), Family Watch International (FWI) is based in Gilbert, Arizona, and claims to be a nonprofit international educational organization. FWI is under the leadership of founder and longtime anti-LGBT and anti-choice activist Sharon Slater, who is Mormon.
Sharon Slater touts herself as an “internationally recognized leader in the effort to promote and protect the family and family values.” Her attacks on LGBT individuals — who, she repeatedly insists, are prone to disease, “significantly more promiscuous,” and “more likely to engage in pedophilia” — are presented under the guise of protecting children, who she claims are most at risk of being unwittingly indoctrinated into the sinister “global sexual rights revolution” that seeks to undermine the nuclear family, unleash sexual predation on children, undermine religious values, and sow “gender confusion.”
Though FWI occasionally dabbles in domestic policy, it is an international outreach group with an intense focus on Africa and the U.N.
Slater, along with a network of other religious fundamentalist organizations active in Africa, spreads her homophobic, anti-choice, abstinence-only agenda by claiming that the U.N,’s push for equal rights for LGBT people and women is part of a Western neo-imperialistic project. She’s forged close ties over the years with virulently antigay African activists like Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa — an enthusiastic supporter of the country’s “ Kill the Gays ” bill — who have helped her lead campaigns to oppose the decriminalization of homosexuality. While these laws impose long prison terms on LGBT people, Slater insists that her position is a compassionate one: by reinforcing a culture inimical to homosexuality, she claims, LGBT people will be encouraged to unlearn their attraction, in turn neutralizing the threat they present to what the Christian Right calls the “natural family.” The rights of LGBT individuals, she argues, are “fictitious.”
In its own words
“The crux of this presentation is to help you to understand that they are after our children. This is the target of the sexual rights movement. Because they know if they can raise up the next generation and indoctrinate them in their radical gender and sexual ideologies, they will have the culture, they will have the future, they will have the government."
—Sharon Slater, NARTH Training Institute, October 2017
On Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE): “Promotes affirmation of and/or exploration of diverse gender identities. May teach children they can change their gender or identify as multiple genders, or may present other unscientific and medically inaccurate gender ideologies. Fails to teach that most gender-confused children resolve it by adulthood and that extreme gender confusion is a mental health disorder (gender dysphoria) that may be helped with therapy.”
—“15 Harmful Elements of CSE,” on FWI’s Stop CSE Website, 2016
“Bringing to light the negative impacts for men who have sex with men can actually be a compassionate position based on the desire to help people avoid a lifestyle that is generally fraught with heartache and disease, and in some cases even death.”
—Sharon Slater in “Understanding Same-Sex Attraction,” 2014
“Reparative therapy is so threatening to the gay agenda because when an individual stands up and says, 'I have changed,' that’s a fundamental threat to one of the basic principles of the gay agenda, which is to have people believe that people are simply born that way."
—Joseph Nicolosi in FWI’s documentary Understanding Same-Sex Attraction, 2013
On Nigeria, where same-sex sexual activity is punishable by up to 14 years in prison: “As the most populous and one of the wealthiest African counties, Nigeria can serve as a strong role model for other governments in the region to follow on how to hold on to their family values despite intense international pressure.”
—Greg Slater (FWI legal advisor), “Great Hope and Strength for the Family in Nigeria,” July 25, 2011
“Research has proven that homosexuals (mainly the male representatives) have much greater prevalence of pathology than the general population.”
—Sharon Slater, Stand for the Family, 2010, p.65
“[M]any homosexuals who were sexually abused as children are more likely as adults to abuse other children. This creates a cycle of abuse and recruitment of young boys in each succeeding generation.”
—Sharon Slater, Stand for the Family, 2010, p. 69
“The homosexual lifestyle is generally promiscuous.”
—Sharon Slater, Stand for the Family, 2010, p. 184
“Suppose a good friend had a serious drug addiction. A true friend would encourage him to discontinue his self-destructive behavior and get help. Just because you believe taking drugs is unhealthy and harmful does not mean you hate drug users. You can genuinely care for your friend, and at the same time (1) work to ensure that drug use remains illegal, and (2) encourage him to change his lifestyle. So it is with opposing same-sex marriage. If you are concerned about those with same-sex attraction, you would seek to help them and not officially affirm them in an unhealthy lifestyle.”
—“Eight Reasons to Defend Man/Woman Marriage,” Policy Brief, 2010
“At first glance, consensual homosexual sex seems to fit solely within the first category (i.e., self-destructive behavior). Gay activists, however, are bent on not just allowing men to have sex with men and women to have sex with women (let’s call it what it is). They want to force all of society to validate legally and ethically their sexual behavior and relationships, and enact laws that allow them to promote it to our children (and their adopted children), as healthy, normal and even desirable. The homosexual agenda is a worldwide attempt to justify behavior that is inherently destructive to both society and to the individual.”
—Sharon Slater, “The Homosexual Agenda, the US Constitution and Our Children,” Meridian Magazine, July 23, 2003
Sharon Slater founded Family Watch International as Global HAWC in 1999 after experiencing what she claims was a political awakening at the World Congress of Families (WCF) gathering in Geneva, Switzerland. WCF, an anti-LGBT hate group based in Illinois, is composed of Christian Right activists and serves as an umbrella for the Christian Right to create networks at home and abroad and drum up support for their efforts to curtail LGBT and reproductive rights. The organization opposes all that it sees as oppositional to the heterosexual, divinely ordained, “natural family” — including abortion, birth control, and homosexuality.
Before attending the Geneva conference, Slater later wrote, “I had never been involved in a cause. That experience changed the direction of my life, as I learned about the assaults in almost every area of family life and was instilled with the hope that if we all worked together, we could effectively stop many of these attacks.”
While managing her own organization, Slater also worked as president of United Families International (UFI) from 2001 through 2006. Also based in Phoenix suburb of Gilbert, Arizona, UFI is a hate group that formed when two organizations founded by activists Susan Roylance (currently the International Policy and Social Development Coordinator at WCF) and Jan Clark merged in 1983. During Slater’s tenure, FWI has used its consultative status (under Global HAWC’s name) within the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to promote abstinence-only education and counter “homosexual activism.”
It was at UFI that Slater forged ties with activists in African countries including Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi and Uganda, usually through their shared efforts to curtail HIV infection rates with programs that taught abstinence until marriage and denied young people access to sex education. In 2002, for example, Slater invited Ugandan First Lady Janet Museveni to give the keynote speech at the WCF gathering that she organized in New York City.
“[Museveni] made it clear that Uganda’s success [in curtailing HIV infection rates] was due to the promotion of abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage and NOT the use of condoms,” Slater said — an idea she was also promoting in UFI’s “Stay Alive” program. Medical and scientific researchers, however, have disagreed, and argue that the “effectiveness of condom use for prevention of HIV/AIDS is the most likely explanation for Uganda's early successes.”
While Slater’s work was focused on Africa, she didn’t neglect the so-called culture wars back home, especially as debates over civil unions and same-sex marriage heated up in the 2000s.
When courts began hearing an increasing number of cases pertaining to the rights of same-sex couples, FWI — sometimes partnered with UFI — submitted amicus briefs to argue against same-sex marriage.
She also issued warnings about same-sex marriage in the Mormon press. “AIDS did not become a pandemic overnight,” she wrote in Meridian Magazine in 2004. “It will take at least a generation to see the negative results from such a rash experiment on our society.”
Slater even attempted to take on the Girl Scouts in 2011, creating a website called “100 Questions for the Girl Scouts” to inform parents about the many ways the youth organization was “increasingly connecting young girls to radical feminism , the promotion of sexual rights, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) issues, and the abortion rights movement.” According to Slater, “radical feminism” embraced perceived evils ranging from public daycare programs and Title XI (which mandates that any program receiving federal funding cannot discriminate on the basis of sex) to “communism, Marxism, existentialism, and extreme environmentalism.”
Still, it’s at the U.N. where Slater wields most of her influence as well as in Africa — where she claims to stand alongside indigenous African activists against the moral imperialism of Western countries. “I commend you for standing up against the attempts by Western countries to impose their radical sexual agenda on your nations,” she told the audience in 2011 at a Nigerian Bar Association conference, where she was the keynote speaker. “No country has the right to impose their sexual ideologies and corrupted values on other nations.”
Throughout her speech, Slater insisted that homosexuals and transgender people were not protected by human rights statutes — nor should they be in the future. Member states, she told the government leaders, activists, and lawmakers in the audience should challenge those who tell them they are “obligated to promote and protect fictitious sexual rights.”
“Did you know,” she asked, that the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had pressured “six countries to decriminalize homosexuality and protect ‘sexual orientation,’ and 66 nations to legalize, remove penalties for, or increase access to abortion[?]” Nigeria, she implied, was next.
Rather than human rights, Slater portrays protections for LGBT people as “special rights,” that will promote deviant behavior, erode the rights of parents and religious organizations, and help entrench what she calls a radical sexual rights agenda. In fact, she has more recently argued, the real “abuse of human rights” is withholding “the opportunity to get therapy for unwanted same-sex attraction.”
Slater frequently reassures skeptics, as she told a journalist in 2011, that FWI does “not support any laws that promote violence against homosexuals.” Yet the organization has worked alongside activists like Uganda’s Martin Ssempa, who supported a law in Uganda – signed by President Musaveni in February 2014, but annulled by the Constitutional Court that August on procedural grounds — that broadened the punishment for Ugandans convicted of homosexuality, allowing them to be imprisoned for life. When that same journalist asked Slater if that punishment constituted violence, she explained that FWI couldn’t dictate specific legislation and, moreover, that the issue of legal penalties was “complicated.”
Ssempa, who was at one time identified as an FWI volunteer, was well known for using outlandish tactics as part of his apparent effort to discourage homosexual relationships, and he reveled in showing members of his congregation gay pornography and describing sexual acts in graphic detail (including his theory that gay men eat each other’s feces). FWI’s website boasted that the “Internationally renowned family activist” was “helping Family Watch coordinate pro-family efforts in Africa.” FWI only severed ties with Ssempa after they “became aware” that he was publicly agitating for an even harsher version of the legislation that would eventually be signed into law —one that punished those who committed “aggravated homosexuality” with death.
FWI’s Economic and Social Council consultative status allows Slater to meet with U.N. leaders and put on events, like a 2011 conference where delegates were supplied with “scientific studies and statistics reports on cutting-edge family issues” to help them negotiate “pro-family outcomes” and, according to FWI’s newsletter, reveal to attendees “how the U.N. system is being manipulated by sexual rights activists to promote the sexual agenda.”
In a book she put out the previous year, titled Stand for the Family: Alarming Evidence and Firsthand Account from the Front Lines of Battle, Slater described how gay activists at the U.N. were pursuing policies aimed at destroying the family — like perpetuating the population crisis “hoax” in order to promote homosexuality and abortion. The book also contained harmful myths about LGBT people, including claims that LGBT people “recruit” children and that gay men are promiscuous and more likely to engage in pedophilia.
This is one of FWI’s primary tactics: peddling pseudoscientific research to U.N. delegates in order to steer policymaking on issues like the decriminalization of homosexuality. They also compile resource guides and policy briefs with examples of what they consider “good language” that supports their “pro-family” agenda and instructs delegates on the ways they can reproduce this language in future U.N. documents.
FWI has also entered the world of documentary filmmaking, where they promote the work of discredited psychologists and therapists under titles like Porn Pandemic (2014) and The War on Children (2016). Their most well-promoted work, the 2013 film Understanding Same-Sex Attraction features an interview with the father of gay “conversion therapy,” the late Joseph Nicolosi, who founded the National Association of Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in 1992. No one, he insisted until his death from flu-related complications in 2017, is born gay, and those who claim to be are merely responding to childhood trauma and attempting “to fulfill a deficit in the wholeness of the original gender.”
The American Psychological Association has explicitly condemned conversion therapy, stating in 2006 that, “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.” Nevertheless, FWI’s 32-minute film features three men who claim they were “cured” of their homosexuality and includes detailed explanations for same-sex attraction provided by Arizona counselor and author of A Young Man’s Journey: Healing for Young Men with Unwanted Homosexual Feelings (2012), Floyd Godfrey. Homosexuality, Godfrey explains, is the “sexualization of emotional needs and wounds” like “father hunger” — in which a young man feels disconnected from his parent, and “mother hunger" — a fate that befalls boys with Type-A mothers who make their husbands look weak by comparison.
Though FWI doesn’t take in much money annually — about $175,000 in 2015, the most recent 990 available — Slater wields her connections and status within the U.N. to inflate her authority, especially among African nations. It’s worked so well that she was once wrongly identified as a “spokesperson for the United Nations” on Nigerian television and is able to get her pseudoscientific talking points into forums such as the 2011 Nigerian Bar Association Conference.
More recently, Slater has focused her effort on opposing “Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE),” a battle that other Christian Right groups have also taken up. Comprehensive Sexual Education, according to the Sexuality and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), includes age-appropriate and medically accurate information on topics related to sexuality, including human development, relationships, abstinence, disease prevention, contraception and decision-making.
But according to FWI and others on the Christian Right, CSE is a Trojan horse of sorts. It is, according to Slater, “cleverly disguised abortion rights, sexual pleasure education” that sexualizes children and undermines the family. CSE is “masquerading as human rights, gender, and sexual and reproductive health education.”
Slater also stays active on the ex-gay circuit. She delivered a speech at a 2017 ex-gay conference in Salt Lake City sponsored by The Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity — the umbrella organization for the NARTH institute. The U.N. and Western governments, she stated, “know that if they can raise up the next generation and indoctrinate them in their radical gender and sexual ideologies, they will have the culture, they will have the future, they will have the government.”
In many ways, Slater’s CSE campaign may also help mask her conversion therapy views, since that practice has fallen out of favor, especially in recent years in the wake of conversion therapy bans for minors in various states and cities around the country and after a successful consumer fraud lawsuit brought by SPLC against Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH).
Rather than using that now tainted term, FWI (and NARTH) promote “ethical and professional sexual attraction fluidity exploration in therapy (SAFE-T).” They’ve also devoted more effort to painting transgender people as mentally ill and suffering from “extreme gender confusion.” CSE, they write on their website, “Fails to teach that most gender-confused children resolve it by adulthood” — a claim there is no scientific data to support.